Career Change: Why Job Titles Don’t Matter

Career change and job search advice often goes like this:

“Figure out what you want to do. Identify titles of jobs that might be a good fit. Apply for those jobs.”

That advice might have made sense in the Mad Men era. Today when you follow that advice you’re more likely to be dead in the water.

Back in those days, your job title had meaning. Chances are you could figure out what somebody did based on his or her title. (Actually, it was even easier: “his” titles were probably managerial while “her” titles were more likely to be clerical or secretarial).

In those days, a prestigious job meant a private office with a door. A prominent carpet company created a slogan – probably after hiring a Mad Men type agency – suggesting that a title on the door rated a high-quality carpet on the floor.

Today you rarely see closed doors or plush carpets. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal reported that younger workers want a coffee shop set-up, which means no permanent desks or partitions.

Today’s job titles are more open, too.

For example, a systems analyst might be on the senior leadership team of one company and the support staff team at another. You have to learn about the specific role of that job in that company.

The truth is, some job titles weren’t around five or ten years ago. If you haven’t been in the job market for a while, you might not have run across jobs related to gamification and social media. You might even come across a one-of-a-kind title, such as the Southwest Airlines People Department.

What does this change mean for your job search or career change?

Your job search focuses on functions, not titles. During a career change, you have to be suspicious of tests that promise to match your skills and interests with a particular job or job title.

At the same time, before taking a new job, you need to do some research on the company and industry. When your job turns out to be on a lower level, you might not get taken seriously and you could get frustrated with your position.

At the same time, when your new title calls for higher responsibilities, you want to understand what’s expected so you can deliver value to your company and build your career. You also have to consider how you will be perceived within your industry and field when you use this title on your business card.